Fire rages while crews wait

A home in Gibsons was left to burn Oct. 26 while fire crews waited about 35 minutes for BC Hydro to arrive on scene and disconnect the power so crews could direct their water at the base of the blaze.

"Part of the problem was that part of the fire was right where the hydro lines came in so we couldn't get too close until we actually had Hydro on scene to disconnect. So they had to let it go a little bit longer than usual," said Gibsons Fire Chief Bob Stevens.

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Gibsons firefighters got the call saying a home was on fire on Fircrest Road at about 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 26.

Crews arrived within four minutes and at the height of the blaze there were 22 firefighters on scene.

"Basically the whole roof was fully involved by the time we actually got there. From what the neighbours said, from the time they actually made the call to when we showed up it went from sort of flames showing on one end of it to the whole roof being involved, so it was a fairly quick spread," Stevens said.

Once on scene, firefighters attempted to put out the fire, but realized it involved a live power line that needed to be shut off before water could be sprayed in the area.

"We were spraying around it, but the actual meter base and connections where we had issues was where most of the fire was, so we couldn't direct our streams right at it," Stevens said.

He said crews waited 35 or 40 minutes for the on-call power line technician with BC Hydro to arrive on scene and shut off the power.

"It's not unusual for us," Stevens said. "It depends on who's the on-call guy. If he lives in Halfmoon Bay, then he's driving from Halfmoon Bay to Field Road and then getting the truck ready and equipped and then coming down here and getting on scene. It takes a while."

BC Hydro defended their response time this week.

"The response time was OK based on the fact that we're not emergency responders, so we obviously don't have emergency lights and sirens and we can't exceed the regular speed limits when we're responding to a situation, unlike firemen," said Simi Heer, spokesperson for BC Hydro. "That evening we did have a power line technician on standby so he was able to get into the office, get his gear, get his truck and be on site between 35 and 40 minutes.

"It also depends on when the fire department calls us. So in this case it isn't clear when we were called, if it was before they left, while they were en route or once they arrived at the home. But we do try to work with fire departments to encourage them to call us immediately when there is a house fire so we're able to initiate our response at that time, too."

The two occupants of the home on Fircrest, a mother and her adult daughter, escaped the fire and are now staying with family.

Stevens said the women can't return home because the house is "a write-off."

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but Stevens said there is evidence an electrical problem may have caused the blaze.

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